Greater IBMer, author and thought leader Dr. James Cortada is no newcomer to the world of developing, writing, and publishing books. An IBM employee of nearly 40 years now, he’s recently published his latest, “The Digital Flood: The Diffusion of Information Technology Across the U.S., Europe, and Asia” – and it’s his 66th book.
Read more about Dr. Cortada and how his IBM career helped him in developing his dozens of books on the history of information technologies and business management.
Dr. James W. Cortada
The Greater IBM Connection: How long have you been an IBMer?
Dr. Cortada: 38 years.
What is your role today – what are some of your more interesting duties?
I work in the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), doing research on contemporary business problems and advising governments on how to improve their operations.
I also support client teams selling to government agencies when they need thought leadership materials.
How did you come to join IBM?
I was recruited into sales by two IBM executives in the 1970s.
What earlier roles have helped to prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
I have consulted to governments all over the world, sold software and hardware, and learned to run sales organizations, all of which taught me about the role of IT and managing its use in business terms.
Is your IBM work related to your writing?
They are related, because my writing is about how IT is used by individuals, companies, governments, by industry and by country. My IBM experience gives me the insight to know what issues to explore that are relevant to our clients.
Have you written for pleasure all your life? How did you begin?
I have written for pleasure all my life; I learned to do it first as a reporter for a newspaper, later as a stringer for AP, then through the formal rigors of graduate training.
When did you begin writing books?
I published my first book when I was 20, a short thing about the American Civil War in my hometown in Virginia.
That was 65 books ago.
What spurred you to write a book – what was the impetus that got you started?
I have been writing about the history and management of IT since about 1978, always about topics that I wished someone else would write about, but did not.
So I did.
Buy the book at Amazon.com
How do you choose the subjects to explore? Can you explain the process?
I pick topics by listening to what clients and experts are concerned with and by what experts are not willing or able to take on.
For example, European economists and historians like to write more about their home country than about Europe as a whole. Clients want to understand Europe as a whole rather than just about one country.
I also build on what I learned from prior projects to determine what questions to explore and on what skills I have. I am fortunate to be able to work in multiple languages, which makes writing a global history easier.
IBMers work a lot of hours; how do you make the time to write?
This is like jogging, it is a discipline. Every Saturday and Sunday morning I write/study/research between 6 and 8:30 AM, 4 weeks a month, 11 months a year, 10 years each decade. That means there is enough time to write and after a while you get quite efficient at it so the productivity increases.
Do you write regularly? And if so, when and where?
Only on weekends and in my home office, at the same desk so that my mind mentally gets switched fast to the writing zone.
What other hobbies do you have?
Hiking and camping, and I also collect old books on information technologies, tabulators, computers and, of course, everything I can get my hands on regarding the history of IBM and its competitors. I have a very cool collection of publications about IBM from all over the world.
Does your creativity emerge in any other ways, do you paint, photograph, play music, etc.?
No time to do those things as IBM, family, community activities, and writing consumer all my waking hours.
What does your future in writing hold? What’s next?
Three books: what the history of 150 years of IT teaches management about business; a short account of how management has changed in the last 30 years and where it is going; the first history of the role of information in the United States, 1875-Present.
Get “The Digital Flood”
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James Cortada’s page on Amazon